I woke up today to a crash downstairs and the sound of breaking glass. At first, I thought I must have been dreaming, but something told me that my dreams had been full of pleasant things, like cake and bunnies, and not of a beagle who, as I discovered when my racing heart and I went downstairs to investigate, had decided to walk across the end table and, upon slipping, knocked everything to the ground. Don’t worry, though; both the lamp and the beagle lived; it was only the light bulb and the promise of a peaceful morning that shattered, which was really too bad. With the steady drum of rain and the accompanying slate grey skies, it would have been the perfect morning to sleep in–at least until 8:30. 
It seems, however, that I am zero for three today. The Greek and I had been planning on going to a fall brunch event and festival at a local garden shop this weekend, but, I got an email this morning saying that, due to inclement weather (a hurricane! high winds! flash floods! Dorothy clearly no longer resides in either Kansas or California), it would be canceled and rescheduled for a weekend when we will be out of town. To top it all off, a college friend we were supposed to see this weekend  also had to cancel because of a work obligation. Although it’s disappointing, I suppose there are worse things than lounging around the house on properly stormy weekend with a good book, a hot toddy and something aromatic simmering on the stove. And, if nothing else, all of these cancellations have made me only more determined to find activities outside of the house: I called the pottery studio this morning and also found a yoga studio that offers 10 class for $45 (that’s right, $45). I will persevere!
But until that grand and triumphant moment comes, there is nothing else to do but relive the excitement of the sunshine-filled summer when both my nails and I were “salt water happy.” To accompany this month’s food for thought and to temper, for those of us on the east coast, the sudden gloom of the fall skies, I thought this would be a good moment to share the photos I took while we were at the Greek’s summer house. This place is not only dear to my heart (it is a form of paradise on earth), but is also one that I’ve written about before. Our visit this summer was extra special, though, as one day, when we arrived at the beach, we came upon the neighbors, avid fishers, as they were cleaning that morning’s catch. It was wonderful to be invited into this ritual, to witness the intense concentration of grandmother, grandfather, grandson with their bucket of fish and several sharp knives, their steady, sure hands and their visible pleasure at knowing they would be eating well for days. It was also, admittedly, a little disconcerting; the exposed eyes of the fish, endlessly staring at us with what seemed to be silent accusations, made me feel like I had taken part in a crime. But the experience of watching Aphrodite slice and pull, slice and pull, was revelatory. There was no waste whatsoever. She’d pull the guts out of one fish and throw them back in the water and, a few minutes later, a small school of fish, no different from hungry humans, would appear to feast. Later, I even saw a cat who, despite an obvious aversion to the sea, was attempting to claim some of the spoils.  
 
As if all of this weren’t treat enough, the neighbors had also caught two octopi. Giorgos carried them out of the water in the trap that he had set (a small cage, really) and, when he pulled the larger one out, it immediately wrapped its tentacles around his arm. I think it was then that I shrieked, an act that Giorgos found to be quite funny; he and his companion, the wife of his fishing buddy, asked me if I wanted to touch it. At first I didn’t understand. I had thought they were holding it out so that I could take a better picture, but when I realized what they were offering, I can only say that my response and leap back in horror led to more laughter. Despite my fear, I did eventually reach a few hesitant fingers out to touch it (it felt cold, jiggly and surprisingly strong and solid), much to the delight of my companions. 
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched an octopus die, but if you have, you may think twice about either ordering it at a restaurant or eating it ever again. Or perhaps, if you’ve taken part in this act yourself (as an active participant or bystander), you will at least understand the cost of your decision to consume it. I learned that day that, in order to make an octopus tender, it has to first be beaten against the rocks–even if you can’t stand to watch, you will still hear the slimy thud of the body being hit against the rocks repeatedly– and then rubbed against the hard surface repeatedly. Only the steady rhythm of slapping and swirling will fully remove the slime. I didn’t think it was possible (octopi, unlike okra, aren’t noticeably slimy) for there to be as much slime as there was, but you can see in one of my photos how it coats the rocks. The whole experience, from the gutting of the fish to the final rinse of the octopi, made me feel that I had again been given the privilege of peeking into real Greek life, of participating in traditions and customs that weren’t really mine. It all lasted but a moment, but, honestly, what a moment! 
On that euphoric note, I will direct you to matters infinitely more mundane:

In Greece, it wasn’t all about stumbling onto great adventures. I read the first mystery novel in a series that is set in Ancient Rome–very good stuff and full of interesting historical facts. While I was initially skeptical about some of them, thinking that they could only be fabrications, it turned out that the author was telling the truth: the ancient Romans really did use urine to clean their clothes.
 
While it’s true that some of Ruth Reichl’s writing might be a little over the top (unless the food is just plain bad, most of her descriptions border on the orgasmic), how can you not be charmed by her passion, enthusiasm and, more importantly, the unfailing certainty of her palate?  

I don’t always think The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” column is all that funny. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s them, but sometimes it just seems to fall a little flat. However, the piece that recently mocked the wish of the Clinton campaign to highlight Hillary’s sense of humor was wonderfully spot on. You may even laugh out loud.

I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of all that Delaware has to offer, but if you ever find yourself passing through, La Fia in Wilmington is as fine and culinarily whimsical as any San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles restaurant. Pizza by Elizabeths, supposedly the favorite place of one Mr. Joe Biden, is not only fun, but also offers thin-crust and reliably good pizza; the names of their pies are inspired by famous Elizabeths, which means you can order the Queen, the Claiborne, the Montgomery. Personally, I prefer the Boop.

In my struggle to find good Chinese food here in Delaware (I’m sure it exists, but I haven’t found a favorite place yet), I’ve been turning to Fuchsia Dunlop, a favorite, and her three fantastic Chinese cookbooks a lot lately. Last night’s feast involved three flavorful and spicy dishes, one from each of her books, but the real showstopper was the Mushroom Gong Bao, which was a mixture of lip-tingling chilies and peppercorns, silky mushrooms and crunchy peanuts. It’s heavy on the prep–lots of chop, chop, chop–but the meal itself, with the help of a rice cooker and a wok (both solid kitchen investments), comes together quickly.

Did you know that peanut butter dumplings exist in Montreal? This, for me at least, is reason number 1 to go to Montreal.

I don’t know why, but I have been fantasizing about cake, scones, muffins, madeleines, whoopie pies and every other baked good known to humankind nonstop. Truly, I want them all. But even in my fantasies, there are two, no, make that three standouts: coconut-lemon tea cake (from the lovely and refreshingly photo-free Short Stack editions) and either Claire Ptak‘s currently seasonally inappropriate kumquat buckwheat almond cake or her olive oil sweet wine cake.

A surprising revelation about America’s food supply. Also, why we should just eat whatever we want despite the findings of the “latest study.”

**The world has gone crazy for Pope Francis and, as a Catholic (of sorts. Personally, I think I lost interest when I learned that young girls could not serve at the altar–this has since changed–and that women couldn’t be priests.), I find myself interested in his struggles to change the Catholic Church  and genuinely curious about the political and religious machinations of the Vatican City.

On a similar note, I really wish that people (namely ignorant and controlling men) would just leave Planned Parenthood (and women) alone already.

The new fall TV season is upon us. I haven’t really found anything new that I’m all that excited about, although I did, despite myself, enjoy the first episode of Scream Queens. There are problematic things about the show (deaf humor, raunchy jokes that fall flat, a lot of gory, blood-spurting deaths), but it was also refreshing and really clever in some ways: for example, a murder scene with only text message communication!?  It’s what I would call part-pastiche, part-parody, with a more than generous splash of sensationalism.

In other art news (related, at least thematically, to my long completed, but never forgotten dissertation), I recently read an article about the recent decision of a New York theater company to cancel its winter production of “The Mikado” because of the operetta’s “racism.” The article and the decision both ask an important question about art: how do we, as a culture, restage shows that represent old stereotypes and prejudices? Do we just relegate them to the massive archives of cultural moments long past or do we try to transform them into something new? And are we sacrificing art at the altar of political correctness?

This is quite possibly the strangest article I’ve ever read about a celebrity chef.

**I wrote about the Pope at a moment of extreme optimism; now that I know that he met with Kim Davis, I suspect that the reform is, as always, going nowhere.

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought (the Greek edition)

  1. TWO posts! You are on a roll, my dear! I actually have another one almost ready, having composed it in my head while trying to fall asleep last night. Insomnia does have its rewards! Ack, I am so sorry about the cancellations and gloomy weather. I really want to laugh every time I walk past Starbucks and see their “Warmly, Fall” signs because…it is still in the 90s here. Ha! I am excited that you are reading My Name is Red! I am between books at the moment–starting The Happiness Project (mostly as a thought provoker, I do take some issues with the methodology) and also am working through Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. However, since I have this accursed cold, I am mostly watching Narcos and wanting to read more about the whole crazy Escobar saga. I know so little about that part of the world! Also, I loved the pictures and tales of fish and octopus! I think I saw the slapping on Bourdian or something, but cannot imagine witnessing it up close! Not for the faint of heart. It makes me smile to read about the summer house because I remember one summer day up in the castle seeing a photo of the view from there and thinking that the Greek was a keeper! I am so happy for you:) Oh! And about the Pope! Yes, I was very disappointed by that as well. However, today it seems that her people are making the meeting out to be something it wasn't? I don't know if I am just clouded by my great desire for Pope Francis to be endlessly awesome, but I would like to imagine that he just said hello and sent her on her way…wishful thinking? Probably. But I do think it would be consistent with his mission to extend love to everyone. Even to people that I am not enough of a good person to love. Anyway, I do hope he will continue to shake things up!

  2. Hi Katy,

    I just loved this post and completely savored your incredible writing, feeling like I was there with you in your living room and then (or before?) in Greece! [I loved your photos, but thanks to your words could have pictured it all in a Short-Stacked-esque photo-less edition!]

    I loved your words about cautiously eating octopus; it's funny, because my dad — the guy who loves to try new and strange foods and who is known to enjoy eating all things adventurous — surprisingly told me recently that he doesn't eat octopus because they are so intelligent! He would be so sad to find out how they get killed…

    And two little things: the fantastic nail polish color name (so hilariously typical!), and peanut butter dumplings??!! (I HAVE TO GO TO MONTREAL NOW).

    Cheers!

  3. Yes, two posts! I must be crazy or have too much time on my hands (or maybe a combination of the two), but since this one didn't include a recipe, it was infinitely easier to write. Plus, there were so many experiences from this summer that I don't want to forget; I kept a journal while we were on the road, so at least I have notes to refer back to!
    I look forward to your next post (Baby in the Bay was too cute–those cheeks!), although I'm sorry to hear about your cold and your insomnia! I've always found that insomnia is good for writing; there were times in grad school when I would get into bed, my head would buzz and, from 2-4 in the morning, I would be up every 20 minutes, typing what I assumed was pure genius (ahh, the hubris of the insomniac). Sometimes it was close…only sometimes, though. 🙂
    Yes, fall arrived in quite the dramatic fashion (the cancellation of the brunch event was really unnecessary, though; Sunday ended up being not so bad, at least inland), although I can't really say I mind. We did *all* the laundry in the house, cooked up a storm and started watching season 4 of Homeland; I also read more of My Name is Red, which is so, so interesting, but so perplexing….I feel lost, but enjoyably so. It's my first Pamuk, although I own several (*blush*).
    And, yes, I remember that day at the castle. I don't think that was our zucchini fest day; somehow I think it was a day when you were driving, were overcome by hunger and, since you were nearby, decided to stop in, knowing that I was, in David's and Inga's kitchen, on a cooking and baking roll. 🙂
    As for Francis, it seems that, since I posted this, there have been more reports about his meeting with Davis. I will say that I don't believe a word that comes out of her lawyer's mouth (experience tells me this is wise), but I feel that the whole situation has just turned into a PR grab: who can spin the story in the most compelling fashion? There may still be great things to come from Francis; because it's clear that his job is not easy (how can he please so many?), I will reserve judgment for now.

  4. Hello, Moriah!

    And what a compliment! Thank you! I do love the Short-Stacked editions and how amazing would it be to write one? 🙂 If only I had “test kitchen experience.” Sadly, even to write about food these days, this is what the people want. I understand its value, to be sure, but who is to say that cooking things over and over again in a home kitchen (this, after al, is the intended audience for all of these books) isn't essentially the same thing?

    I am glad to hear that your father is up and doing well post-surgery–or at least well enough to explain why he doesn't eat octopus. 🙂 Having witnessed the behavior of an octopus firsthand, I can certainly say that they *are* smart! And what they can do with those tentacles…it's frightening!

    As for Essie and OPI, I have always loved these crazy names. Despite the significance of the color for my time in Greece, I mainly chose it because it paired well with my other new blue accessory. It is now all about blue here.

    And if you want a dumpling-consuming companion, I am your woman. I feel THE SAME WAY. If only we didn't have responsibilities, I would say, let's go now! As things currently stand, however, I may just have to try and make them myself (the way you make dumpling dough is very interesting; it's a combination of hot water and all-purpose flour…It's long been on my list of things to try!). I will keep you posted on the results (I don't know where you stand on the peanut butter brand question, but I won't be using anything but Jif). 🙂

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